As genuinely iconic images go, The Beatles striding across the Abbey Road zebra crossing has to be right up there.
The EMI Studios in St John’s Wood, north London, was the setting for The Beatles’ 1960s recordings with the ‘fifth Beatle’, their producer George Martin. Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, The White Album and Abbey Road – their final album – were all created here. In fact, The Beatles recorded around 90% of all their material at the studios between 1962-70.
Photographer Iain Macmillan had met John Lennon at the Indica Gallery with Yoko Ono in 1966 and was later invited by him to photograph the band for the cover of the Abbey Road LP.
Armed with a sketch Paul McCartney had given him a couple of days before of what the picture should look like, Macmillan knew he did not have long to get the right shot.
On August 8, 1969, at around 11.30am, a policeman stopped the traffic outside the studios and Macmillan climbed up a large stepladder in the middle of the street and took just six pictures of the Beatles crossing. In approximately 10 minutes he shot the band in various orders, but it was frame no 5 that was used for undoubtedly one of the most famous album covers of all time.
Walk this way
When the Iain Macmillan archive came to auction as part of the British Cool sale on February 25 at Bonhams Bond Street (27.5/25/20/14.5% buyer’s premium), on offer was an original vintage chromogenic print of the third frame in the sequence showing Lennon at the front. The 20in x 2ft (51 x 61cm) photo, unsigned, unnumbered and unframed, sold for £6500 against a guide of £4000-6000 to the UK trade bidding online.
Another print of this third photo of the Abbey Road ‘six’, numbered 5/25, also from the archive, was sold in an entertainment sale held at Bonhams Knightsbridge last October, making a midestimate £8000 to a US private online buyer.
Also in that October sale, an image showing the Fab Four walking across in the opposite way, right to left, doubled the top estimate at £4000, selling to a European private internet bidder.
Meanwhile, the Hasselblad 500C camera used to take the Abbey Road shots soared over estimate, taking £28,000 (estimate £200-2500) from a US private bidder in the room.
Sold in the February auction, to a UK private online bidder for £1100 (estimate £600-800), was an original promotional poster for the Abbey Road album, 1969, featuring imagery taken by Macmillan that was used on the album sleeve. The 2ft 1in x 22in (63 x 56cm) photo was offered unframed.
Doors to stardom
More lots of Abbey Road interest have come up recently in other salerooms. A set of foyer doors through which The Beatles and many of the leading names from every period of rock and pop, from Pink Floyd to Elton John and Michael Jackson, would have passed to reach the sound stages and recording studios sold at Ewbank’s (25% buyer’s premium) on February 25.
As the studio plan accompanying the lot showed, these were the main internal doors.
Complete with their original brass hinges, they would have first welcomed Sir Edward Elgar when he conducted the London Symphony Orchestra and the teenage Yehudi Menuhin to crown the opening of the EMI Recording Studios in 1931.
The doors were used in place right up until 1988 when they were removed as part of a major refurbishment.
Recording engineer and former Abbey Road manager Ken Townsend worked there from 1950- 95 and was involved with several Beatles albums, including Rubber Soul, Revolver and Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, inventing the Artificial Double Tracking (ADT) system that they were to use for phasing on Beatles records.
He provided a letter of authenticity to go with the doors. Joining it was a note from Townsend explaining that at one point they were converted to include glass panels. “The panels are not original as they were changed in the Sixties due to one of two reasons”. The most likely was that they did not meet the standard required by the fire regulations, but the other was more improbable.
“The night security staff complained that in the early hours the Abbey Road ghost came down the corridor and the door would swing open and this white dressed lady would go past them. By replacing the old frosted glass [it] gave them advance notice to make a hasty exit.”
Acquired by an EMI executive when the studios were revamped in 1988, they had remained in private ownership since. Guided at £2000-4000 in a Ewbank’s Entertainment, Memorabilia & Movie Props auction, the doors took £14,000 from a US private bidder.
An Abbey Road street sign was sought after at Catherine Southon’s (20% buyer’s premium) dedicated timed online auction that ended on March 3.
It was one of 275 signs to the classic black and red design first created by Sir Misha Black (1910- 77) that were being sold on behalf of Westminster City Council. Black, the professor of Industrial Design at the Royal College of Art from 1959-75, was responsible for designing all of Westminster’s street signs in 1976. The council upgraded all its signposts as part of its Legible London campaign.
Abbey Road had been estimated at £1000-2000. However, after “significant interest, it was bought by an overseas bidder for £30,000” said the Surrey auction house.
The sale overall was a ‘white-glove’ auction which totalled a premium-inclusive £143,517 and attracted “frantic last-minute bidding from all over the world from Australia to Canada to Europe as well as the UK”.